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So, now you’ve got a lot of hardware.

You’ve moved beyond just a computer, and you’re back to the joy of making music with boxes with knobs and faders and keys. And you’re playing with them live. And maybe Roland’s AIRA had something to do with that, too.

Now, how do you put them together?

KORG’s SQ-1 step sequencer is one answer. And Roland has provided the next chapter to its AIRA hardware saga with a mixer, its sixth product in the AIRA line.

But this isn’t just a way of connecting all the audio outputs from those devices – finding mixers, after all, isn’t hard to do. Roland wants to go one step further, and have you think of that mixer as an instrument to play, too.

The MX-1 is more than just a live-savvy mixer: it’s a computer interface, it’s a way to connect AIRA audio and MIDI with just USB cables even without a computer, and a tempo-synced multi-effects box.

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For starters, you can take audio from different sources: Continue reading »

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Analog or digital, clock or notes, it appears Korg’s new SQ-1 will do anything. It loves your MS-20, but also your volca series and your monotribe and your MIDI gear and your computer. In fact, with audio clock, it’ll support a product even Korg probably only heard about yesterday – those cute Teenage Engineering machines.

The SQ-1 is the new compact step sequencer hardware from Korg. Way back when Korg first unveiled the MS-20 mini, I hoped for a remake of the SQ-10 to go with it. Now, instead of that lumbering behemoth, we got something much more practical. The SQ-1 is a spiritual successor to the SQ-10, but it’s almost volca-sized in dimensions — a small rectangular device that can control anything.

Basically, the SQ-1 is the little box that will suddenly make all those other boxes you started collecting more useful. Want to keep some synths and drum machines in sync, by sending clock? Want to make some rhythmic or melodic patterns? The SQ-1 could be the one you want, simply because it crams a lot of useful creative controls onto the front panel, and then connects to anything. What initially looked like just control voltage for the MS-20 in the bits that leaked yesterday now covers all the bases:

  • Analog: you get dual CV (Hz/V and V/Oct) trigger and gate
  • Analog sync: (clock volca series, electribes, or monotribe – or the Teenage Engineering gadgets)
  • Analog for littleBits: In an unexpected twist, there’s even an explicit jack for Korg’s collaboration with the snap-together littleBits hardware system.
  • Digital hardware: Three-pin MIDI connection to your computer (via stereo minijack breakout – we didn’t seen that DIN icon yesterday)
  • Digital/USB: there’s a USB port for MIDI connection to your computer.

Continue reading »

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With version number 10.1, the Logic Pro release out right now sounds like a “yawn, move along” bump. But there’s actually a big story here. Half that story is about making electronic beats. The other half, and maybe the more important half, is about editing. But let me explain.

Even with a steady stream of updates, I’m not convinced Logic Pro X has entirely shaken concerns from some hard-core producers about serious editing – whether they’re being fair or not. Something about all the cute graphics and loop browsing and GarageBand and iPad and iPhone seems to make them, well, nervous. It means they don’t always believe that word “Pro” attached to the name.

So, let me take you back to a time before Apple, when they felt differently. Remember when more people knew the acronym “IDM” than “EDM,” when the people building Logic were all still in gray, wet Hamburg, Germany instead of Cupertino, California?

In those days, the idea of Logic as a hard-core electronic music workstation was actually kind of a default. Sure, studio producers used Pro Tools, film composers used Digital Performer. But dance music was a rivalry between Logic and Cubase, as fierce as Hamburg SV versus St. Pauli.

Well, then Ableton Live and the American dance music boom happened, of course. But it’s still a Logic and Cubase battle. The difference is, now Logic seems to have a release that doesn’t seem to be trying to pander to guitarists or first-time producers or GarageBand updaters. They are, as always, implying you might use Logic to do the kind of studio work often associated in this industry with something rhyming with Mavid Glow Rules. But – heck, you might make some techno with it. Sorry, make that “EDM.”

drummerdrummachine Continue reading »

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Teenage Engineering have also shared with us their video tutorials on the PO (Pocket Operator) line. The basic stuff to know (having been playing around with today rather than doing NAMM work):

This being Nintendo-inspired, yes, there’s a metronome and alarm clock function.
Select one of sixteen patterns, and one of sixteen sounds, with the respective buttons.
Toggle between playing notes with the buttons, or inputing them with the step sequencer, using the “write” button.
Hold “write,” and you can write parameters over top of playing sequences (effects work this way, too). That means you can automate patterns, etc.
“bpm” – several of you asked about this. You can toggle between bpm presets, or dial in specific bpm and swing independently.

For more detail, watch the videos. These really are deceptively powerful, if they require some practice to learn to use. But as a little tiny thing to keep in your studio to generate ideas, well… yep, pretty irresistible. Continue reading »

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Australia’s Turra Music have leaked a new analog Korg synth product. But it’s the product that goes with it that has us excited.

Following up on the MS-20 kit – the build-it-yourself limited-run full-sized MS-20 remake Korg did – the company now has a module. That’s brilliant: the full-sized MS-20 sounds amazing (with both MS-20 filter models) and feels and looks beautifully authentic, but it isn’t the easiest thing to tote.

But packed in the kit is a new SQ-1 Step Sequencer.

That’s pre-assembled, which makes me think we’ll see this as a separate product. This is obviously a no-brainer for existing MS-20 owners, and the sync outputs could also work with stuff like the volca series. Welcome back to analog folks.

Also interesting: it appears there’s a connection for littleBits gear – presumably simply providing the correct analog output for that hardware.

It appears there’s no MIDI on the step sequencer; having both would be nice. CDM will attempt to get more details from Korg. In the meantime, check the video.

Also, specs: Continue reading »

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“Pocket” is a term often used loosely to mean anything small. Not so the Teenage Engineering PO-12 series of instruments. They’re each literally small enough that you could put them in your jeans comfortably and still cram in your phone.

We’ve got units from TE (and collaborator Cheap Monday) here at CDM, so let’s talk about what our wacky Stockholm friends have done this time.

Remember Nintendo’s Game & Watch series? These business card-sized pocket games used crude but charming LCD animations, characters making jerky, repetitive movements for basic games. The ultra-cheap toy titles preceded the NES, the ingenious work of game designer Gunpei Yokoi. They were brutally simple, but stunningly addictive. Oh, and they also doubled as a clock/alarm clock – battery draw was so impossibly minimal, you could prop them on your bedside and count on them to wake you up in the morning.

Here’s where we enter the weird and wonderful imagination of Teenage Engineering and founder Jesper Kouthoofd – and their usual Japan fetish, down to the writing on the box. The PO cross-breeds the Game & Watch with synths and a drum machine and a step sequencer. The lab coat-wearing TE team have unveiled three models – a “Factory” melodic synth, a “Sub” bass synth, and a “Rhythm” drum machine. Each is US$59.

CDM was the first to see the PO-12 when the drum machine – sans display – showed up in a talk I hosted at Moogfest last year. Now, the Game & Watch connection is explicit: that blank space on the board hosts a gaming display. And yes, it’s also an alarm clock. And no, the TE guys haven’t come up with any housing: this is still a board with a hanger and a wire stand for the back. You pop in AAA batteries and go. There’s not even a power switch: it powers off automatically; any key brings it (nearly) instantly to life.

So, okay. It’s a cute toy, a nerdy gimmick for design lovers. It’s available in Colette in Paris. Skinny jeans maker Cheap Monday is in on it. Fine. It’s a fun hipster throwaway. It’s certainly not a musical instrument.

Wrong.

Actually, completely wrong. Continue reading »

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Smart keyboard controllers that integrate with software have been something various makers have tried frequently over the years, with various degrees of success.

Propellerhead helped lead the way with Automap in Reason, which could cleverly link on-screen controls to devices. But by the time this was translated to multiple pieces of software, the resulting “automatic” features could be harder to use on than off. I tried at various points Novation’s ReMOTE, M-Audio’s Axiom Pro, and Cakewalk’s A-PRO keyboards, and found them all to be perfectly nice hardware – once I gave up and turned the automatic stuff off and just mapped MIDI the old fashioned way. I know I’m not alone on this, as I’ve heard frequently from readers in comments.

Recently, though, keyboards with a more modest scope have resurrected the idea in compelling ways. Nektar’s Panorama keyboard and siblings is nicely designed and works well with certain software – especially Reason. (It’s also a no-brainer if you’re one of the handful of people using Bitwig.)

And then there’s Native Instruments’ Komplete Kontrol. At first glance, it looked nearly perfect. Tight integration with NI’s software means automatic hands-on control with no additional configuration. The design is attractive. The keybed is top-notch (it’s a simple synth action, but the best one available, the Fatar). I’ve been using the 25-key model, and it’s a lot of fun – doubly so when you use it alongside Maschine.

But then come the caveats. Komplete Kontrol is useless the moment it’s disconnected from your computer: there’s no standalone operation, which for a MIDI keyboard seems fairly unforgivable. The arpeggiator and chord feature work only with NI’s software, not with other plug-ins. You sacrifice pitch and mod wheels for ribbon controls, but actually taking advantage of their flexibility is tough, since you can’t easily swap settings without diving into the software. And all this is more expensive than rivals (for instance, from Korg) which lack the same limitations. Unless you own and spend most of your time in Komplete, it’s hard to get excited about a keyboard that costs more, but does less. (That is, there’s no question it’s a godsend for heavy-duty Komplete users, but some of us have other software and hardware we want to use, too.)

And that’s why Akai Advance looks interesting. The keyboard, scheduled for delivery in spring, at least promises to do more with its whiz-bang premium features. Continue reading »